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Monty Python troupe reunites for stage show

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Monty Python members (from left), Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese pick up their co-star, Carol Cleveland.

MATT DUNHAM / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Monty Python members (from left), Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese pick up their co-star, Carol Cleveland.

LONDON -- Everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition. And as with all things Monty Python, fans need to expect the unexpected, too.

Next month, the surviving Monty Python members reunite onstage for the first time in almost 35 years -- and, they say, the last time ever. Fans understandably want to see the anarchic comedy troupe's classic skits. They're hoping for Spam, lumberjacks, dead parrots and of course the red-robed cardinals who burst in to proclaim: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Troupe member Eric Idle assures fans they will get the old favourites -- but they are also in for surprises.

"I've got one or two up my sleeve that will absolutely freak people out," said Idle, who has taken the lead on assembling the 10 performances at London's O2 Arena.

The Monty Python Live (mostly) shows will take place between July 1 and July 20, with the final performance beamed live into movie theatres worldwide. More screenings are planned on July 23, 24 and Aug. 6.

"It's not five old guys on a stage doing old sketches," Idle said of the show, which has a budget of $3.5 million. He spoke by phone to The Associated Press from Seattle.

The 15,000-seat stadium will be filled with the help of a live orchestra, film footage, special effects and Terry Gilliam's surreal animation. There will be plenty of "rude songs and rude dancing" from an ensemble of 20 singers and dancers -- the approach Idle adopted during his performance at the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony.

"Who wants to look at a bunch of old guys? Put some attractive young people onstage," said Idle, at 71 the youngest of the group. "That's my Broadway background. It's what I learned from Spamalot."

The sixth member of Monty Python, Graham Chapman, died of cancer in 1989 but will be present in recorded form. Carol Cleveland, who appeared regularly on the Pythons' 1970s TV show, will also take part.

"It's a revue -- 'Deja Revue,' as I call it," Idle said.

"What I've tried to do is make a sort of necklace -- and we'll be the jewels. I've tried to make it segue into each other like the old Python shows used to do."

Idle began by asking Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Jones for their favourite Python nuggets. "I've tried to do things we've never done onstage as well," he said.

"Python has always tried to push the expectation level and just be a little bit more than they could possibly hope for. I think that's one of its secrets -- it's always been, 'Well this will really surprise them.' "

Idle said he's looking forward to the live transmission's potential for chaos. "You don't normally have that opportunity to try and be embarrassing and hopeless onscreen."

Idle said the atmosphere among the five group members was "delightful" -- though Gilliam, now a film and opera director, branded the reunion "depressing" in a recent British newspaper interview.

"I think he's the most insecure about being in it," Idle said. "He isn't really a comedian.

"But of course his animations are staggering, and at 80 feet wide they look great."

The five comedians have had their disagreements over the years -- but, crucially, they still make one another laugh.

"I think everybody is much mellower, and happy," Idle said. "People are very funny about each other. And sometimes people think we are attacking each other, but it actually is not that. It's permission to say anything, which is lovely."

Idle said it was "wonderful" to watch comedy partners Cleese and Palin during a read-through for the farewell show.

"I could watch them all evening. It doesn't matter that I know the stuff. They're just funny. And that's what will make it special."

All the members of Monty Python have had busy solo careers, taking in television, movies, theatre, books and opera.

They've reunited because -- to be blunt -- they needed money. The five were left with a large legal bill last year after losing a lawsuit brought by movie producer Mark Forstater over royalties from the stage musical Spamalot.

"We were in a mess," Idle said, until an adviser suggested putting on a show to clear the debt. "It changed everything round, and everybody got excited."

But he says it will never happen again. "It's the last shout," Idle said. "A) We're extremely old and b) it takes a lot to get this sort of thing together. Everybody has other things they like to do."

With just under a month until the July 1 kickoff, Idle has one gripe. It's about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whose scarlet tunics are essential to the famous skit featuring a singing, cross-dressing lumberjack.

"The Mounties have seized all Mountie uniforms throughout the world, so you can't get them anymore," Idle said. "But we're not going to be stopped from doing The Lumberjack Song no matter what they do. So we may be up for extradition."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2014 C9

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